When I was younger, Ernest Hemingway was considered a literary god. After his suicide in 1961, the colossus of his reputation began to be chipped away. After re-reading his Green Hills of Africa (1935), I begin to understand why.
Literary reputations are a tricky business. Who reads Thomas Wolfe any more? Is he even in print? What about James Jones and Herman Wouk? I can even foresee that my beloved William Faulkner’s rep might come in for revision by a younger generation less than enchanted by his difficulty.
What hurt Hemingway for me, especially as I developed a more adult taste in literature, was primarily his pose of machismo. In Green Hills of Africa, he is the Great White Hunter, even though it is one of his companions who kills the trophy rhino and kudu.
Even worse if Hem’s practice of never referring to his wife by name. If the edition I read did not rectify it in the captions to the illustrations, I would have known her only as P.O.M.—Poor Old Mama. What was poor about her? Pauline Pfeiffer Hadley Hemingway was bright and understanding. There were no bitter recriminations, even though the safari was mainly Ernest’s little red wagon.
But really, P.O.M. this and P.O.M. that? And never once Pauline or Hadley? If I were her, I would have knocked his teeth out with his own typewriter for refusing the acknowledge her individuality. It’s as if I would refer to Martine in my blogs as P.L.F.G.—Poor Little French Girl (she was born in Paris).
What Hemingway had going for him was his literary style. Joan Didion used to study his short stories as a model for her early writings. Until, that is, she surpassed him.
Of course, Hem refers to himself a couple of times as Poor Old Poppa, but not 100% of the time as he does with Pauline.